I was troubled right when it pulled up. The screech and surprising effectiveness of its break pads. The all too functioning accordion doors as they made their sudden opening crack. It was decrepit, but also striving towards its full potential. This was my mini-bus. It was going from the New Territories region in Hong Kong to the red line MRT, where I would eventually find my way home (a plush 15 person dormitory room with a frequent lack of oxygen).
I slowly looked the mini-bus and its driver up and down, pretty skeptical of the whole situation. The van was a tan-turd color which always makes me wonder why. I like to think because maybe they don't like to wash them. The driver was a bit more interesting. His neck was practically made of metal. Probably strengthened from the chronic whipping and lashing in the manner that he drove - seemingly on fire and trying to find the nearest lake. He was about sixty and wore thick glasses. Ya know, those really thick yellow ones...Those ones that are so foggy that it makes you wonder if he's better off with them or without them. He was a small man, but with a commanding presence. He brought this sense of madness and shuffling to everyone within the mini-bus' domain. Any second wasted around him prompted a painful reminder. As I groggily walked up the stairs with my eight dollars of change, I thought that I looked rather quickly for the box to put it into. He didn't think so. And so I was further awakened by this mans grunting towards the metal pedestal with a stare like "How could you miss that? This is definitely your first time". I let my coins spill into where they belonged, he somehow counted and nodded. I took my seat.
People started grabbing firmly to the handrails as he started the engine, this should have been the sign to brace myself. A grandmother knowing the situation, ran to the door, yelled her desired location, and was received by a yell back declaring 'Not even close, lady!'. With a brush of his hand she was gone and we were on our way.
In not so beautifully designed fashion, there were printed pages in Chinese littered and taped almost everywhere inside the bus stating different regulations. I later came to realize that these signs were here because of extremely bad driving behavior resulting in many deaths over the years. It wasn't just some sort of decoration to block out the sun. I managed to accept their appearance.
This vehicle was a manual, and the driver shifted like a bat out of hell. He could have been a race car driver. Violently shaking between second, third and fourth, he accelerated when most people didn't and just narrowly avoided pedestrians like potholes. The system in this new world was very simple - you yell when you need to get off and he acknowledges you by waving his hand in disgust. So when the first person played along, he warmed up by applying both feet to the break pedal forcing us all to decline from 60km to 0 within a matter of seconds. To his credit, he did let the door crash open using our forward momentum. This person must have been seasoned because at that very instant she shot up from her seat, ran to the door and in synchronized harmony hopped off the ledge as the bus lurched forward again.
As the trip progressed, I started to realize I was surrounded by people triple my age. These were old people. And one after the next, they seemingly made it out of the exit door effectively, meeting the drivers expectations. They all seemed quite content moving that quickly. I guess they wanted to live another day without a broken hip. I was later told he drove this way because the more people he took on and dropped off, the more mula he made. I then questioned back - But what if he stayed at the main station longer or drove with gas efficiency in mind, wouldn't he easily make up this difference without putting all our lives in danger? I was then assured by a Hong Kong local that he was making the most money possible in the best way possible and that it was silly to think of other methods of operation. But then again, I wasn't exactly thinking clearly at that moment. I had to focus about half my energy to avoid having my head come in intimate contact with one of the many metal railings around me.
I was fascinated by the driver. He was by every sense of it, one of those hardened old grandfathers. Probably ate the same thing every day. Probably rose every morning at the same time. Anger was his normal state. Probably had three shirts, chain smoked. I think his glasses were aged by the forty years that he had been wearing them. Not someone you wanted to have eye contact with.. I started to examine my feelings as they morphed and almost gurgled out of me through the turns. What started as worry and fear for my life somehow slipped into ease. Maybe the ease and reassurance because I knew I was getting to my destination in the fastest way humanly possible. Maybe because I knew, 100% wholeheartedly, that my driver would do everything in his power to avoid the slow sucking shit of normal life, and burn past it with vigor, so that I could get home at a reasonable hour. I had a new found respect for this rough, tiny man. His seemingly erratic driving was now purposeful and almost divine.
I was notified that it was my stop in a few seconds. I snapped out of this ease and began to sweat thinking of what would happen to me in the coming moments. I took a deep breath, and systematically examined my surroundings for anything that might slow me down as I headed for the exit. Safety bar. step. Old mans extended foot. Grandmothers cane. Landmines. He jerked to the left, slammed the pedal and I was up, running, jumping. Escaping the box. I did it. I was outside. I admit, I almost got stuck in the door, but all in all maybe a 8 out of 10 escape score. The driver seemed satisfied that a foreigner as tall as me could manage what I had done. I could only imagine that he had a small grin as he roared into the morning dropping those that remained.